An ongoing NC State partnership to defeat a disease of a key African food crop got a boost recently when the project received a $2.15 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Researchers at NC State will work with their colleagues at the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI) in Tanzania to study DNA molecules that enhance disease symptoms and break resistance to geminiviruses that can cause major crop losses in cassava.

Cassava is a starchy, potato-like vegetable used for food, ethanol and other applications. In Africa, cassava accounts for more than a third of human calorie consumption.

Because it can thrive despite poor soil conditions and drought, it is often the only food source when other crops fail, according to Linda Hanley-Bowdoin, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Plant and Microbial Biology and principal investigator for the grant project.

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